The Great Escape of the S.S. Mactan: December 31, 1941

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Photo above: recently offered for sale on eBay, a Baltimore Sun wirephoto of wounded soldiers aboard the S.S. Mactan.

Late at night, on December 31, 1941, an old ship prepared to weigh anchor to escape Manila. Its destination was Sydney, Australia. On board, were 224 wounded USAFFE soldiers (134 of them Americans and 90 of whom were Filipinos); 67 crew members, all Filipino, and 25 medical and Red Cross personnel, all Filipino except for one American nurse, and some others.

The ship was the S.S. Mactan. Its journey represents one of the great escapes of World War 2.

In the book At His Side: The Story of the American Red Cross Overseas in World War 2, by George Korson, chronicles the story of the S.S. Mactan.

Page 22 of the book contains this scene:

On the morning of December 24, some twenty Red Cross volunteer women were in the official residence of Francis B. Sayre, High Commissioner to the Philippines, packing Christmas gifts for soldiers and sailors in hospitals in and around Manila. Mrs. Sayre was in charge of the group.

Suddenly, at eleven o’clock, Mrs. Sayre looked up from her task at the tables to see her husband standing in the patio doorway beck- oning to her. She slipped quietly out of the room and stood in the patio. “I have an urgent message from General MacArthur,” said Mr. Sayre in a low voice. “The city may fall, and we must be ready to leave for Corregidor at one-thirty!”

Mrs. Sayre was stunned. “But we must finish these bags. They’re the only Christmas our boys will have.”

“Pack as quickly as you can,” he said and left hurriedly. Mrs. Sayre went back to the tables. The women worked quickly,  and in silence, to complete their task before the daily noon Japanese air raid over Manila.

The treasure bags, as they were called, made hundreds of American and Filipino soldiers and sailors happier in their hospital wards that dark Christmas Day. Irving Williams helped Gray Ladies make the distribution in the Sternberg General Hospital. The work was under the direction of Miss Catherine L. Nau, of Pittsburgh assistant field director at the hospital, who later was to distinguish herself for her work among the troops on Bataan and Corregidor, before the Japanese interned her.

Of the gift distribution at Sternberg General Hospital, Irving Williams said, “I shall never forget the boys’ beaming faces and delighted eyes as we went from ward to ward. The simple comfort articles meant so much to these boys, who had lost all of their possessions on the field of battle.”

The Philippine Diary Project contains General Basilio J. Valdes’ diary entry for December 24, 1941, giving the Filipino side of that day’s hectic events.

The Red Cross book continues with Gen. Valdes returning to Manila to contact the Red Cross:

Not until three days later December 28 did Williams know that these same boys would be entrusted to his care on one of the most hazardous missions of the war. Major General Basilio Valdes, then commanding general of the Filipino Army, came straight from MacArthur’s headquarters on Corregidor with the urgent request that the American Red Cross undertake to transport all serious casualties from the Sternberg General Hospital to Australia. President Manuel Quezon of the Philippine Commonwealth helped the Red Cross locate the Mactan.

The Commonwealth Government had, of course, by this time, withdrawn to Corregidor, and Manila had been declared an Open City. Sending Gen. Valdes to Manila was therefore rather risky.

The Philippine Diary Project contains Gen. Valdes’ entries about this mission, which began on December 28, 1941:

We left Corregidor on a Q Boat. It took us 45 minutes to negotiate the distance. The picture of Manila Bay with all the ships either sunk or in flames was one of horror and desolation. We landed at the Army and Navy Club.

I rushed immediately to Red Cross Headquarters. I informed Mr. Forster, Manager Philippine Red Cross, and Mr. Wolff, Chairman of the Executive Board of my mission. I then called the Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon and I asked him what ships were still available for my purpose. He offered the government cutter Apo. I accepted. He told me that it was hiding somewhere in Bataan and that he expected to hear from the Captain at 6 p.m.

From his house, I rushed to Sternberg General Hospital where I conferred with Colonel Carroll regarding my plans. Then I returned to the Red Cross Headquarters and arranged for 100 painters and sufficient paint to change its present color to white, with a huge Red Cross in the center of the sides and on the funnel.

At 3 p.m. I again called Collector de Leon and inquired if he would try to contact the Apo. He assured me that he would endeavor to contact the Captain (Panopio). At 11 p.m. Mr. De Leon phoned me that he had not yet received any reply to his radio call. I could not sleep. I was worried.

There’s an extensive chronicle in his diary entries for December 29, 1941:

At 6:30 a.m. I called up Mr. Jose (Peping) Fernandez one of the managers of Compania Maritima and told him that I had to see him with an important problem. I rushed to his house. He realized my predicament. “I can offer you ships, but they are not here,” he said. After studying my needs from all angles we decided that the best thing to do would be to ask the U.S. Army to release the SS Mactan.

We contacted Colonel George, in charge of water transportation, and asked him to meet us at USAFFE Headquarters so that we could discuss the matter with General Marshall. We met at 8 a.m. and it was decided that the U.S. Army would release the Mactan to me to convert it into a hospital ship. I was told the SS Mactan, was in Corregidor and it would not be in Manila until after dark. I rushed to the Red Cross Headquarters and asked Mr. Forster to have the painters in readiness to start the painting without delay, as soon as the ship docked at Pier N-1.

Last night Mr. Forster sent a telegram to the American Red Cross in Washington informing them of our plan.

At 11 a.m. Collector de Leon phoned me that the Apo was sailing for Manila that evening. I thanked him and informed him that it was too late.

At 5 p.m. Mr. Wolff phoned me that they have received an important radiogram from the Secretary of State, Hull, and that my presence in the Red Cross was urgent to discuss the contents of this radiogram. I rushed there. Mr. Wolff, Mr. Forster, Judge Dewitt and Dr. Buss of the High Commissioner’s Office were already busy studying the contents of Mr. Hull’s radiogram. It was specified in it that the sending out of Red Cross hospital Ship was approved; that the Japanese government had been advised of its sailing through the Swiss Ambassador and that it was necessary that we radio rush the name of the ship and the route that would be followed. Moreover, we were told to comply strictly with the articles of the Hague convention of 1907. These articles define what is meant by Red Cross Hospital Ship, how it must be painted and what personnel it must carry. It clearly specifies that no civilian can be on the boat.

I left Red Cross Headquarters at 6:30 p.m. No news of the SS Mactan had been received. At 9 p.m. I called Dr. Canuto of the Red Cross, and I was advised that the ship had not yet arrived.

At 11 p.m. I went to Pier N-1 to inquire. No one could give me any information about the Mactan

And December 30, 1941:

At 5 a.m. Mr. Williams of the Red Cross phoned me that the ship had arrived but that he was not willing to put the painters on because there was still some cargo of rifles and ammunition left. He informed me that the Captain (Tamayo) and the Chief Officers were in his office. I asked him to hold them. I dressed hurriedly and rushed to the Red Cross Headquarters. They repeated the information given to Mr. Williams. Believing that this cargo belonged to the U.S. Army I asked them to come with me to the USAFFE Headquarters. I had to awake General Marshall. Pressing our inquiry we found out that this cargo consisted only of 3 or 4 boxes of rifles (Enfield) and 2 boxes of 30 caliber ammunition belonging to Philippine Army. It had been left as they were forced to leave Corregidor before everything had been unloaded. We explained to them that there was no danger and with my assurance that these boxes would be unloaded early in the morning, they returned to the ship, took on the painters and left for Malabon for the painting job.

From the USAFFE Headquarters, I rushed to the house of Colonel Miguel Aguilar, Chief of Finance. I found him in bed. He got up, and I asked him to see that the remaining cargo there be removed without delay. He assured me that he would contact the Chief of Quartermaster Service and direct him accordingly. My order was complied with during the course of the day.

At 9 a.m. I contacted Mr. Forster. He informed me that the painters were on the job and that in accordance with my instructions, two launches were tied close to the ship to transport the painters to the river of Malabon in case of a raid. I then went to Colonel Aguilar’s office at the Far Eastern University to discuss with him some matters regarding finance of the Army. From there I went to Malacañan to see Sec. Vargas, and from there to the office of the Sec. of National Defense, to inquire for correspondence for me.

At noon, I called Mr. Jose (Peping) Fernandez to inquire where the ship was. He asked me to have luncheon with him and to go afterwards to Malabon. After lunch we went by car to Malabon. I saw the ship being painted white. It already had a large Red Cross on the sides and on the funnel.

I returned to the Red Cross Headquarters to ascertain if all plans had been properly carried out. Mr. Forster was worried as he did not know whether the provisions and food supplies carried by his personnel would be sufficient. I then contacted Colonel Ward by phone, and later Colonel Carroll. Both assured me that there would be enough food and medical supplies for the trip.

With that assurance, and the promise of Mr. Forster that his doctors and nurses were all ready to go and of Colonel Carroll that as soon as the boat docked at Pier 1, he would begin to load his equipment, beds, etc. and transport his patients, I felt that my mission had been successfully accomplished.

Here, the Red Cross book continues the story on page 16:

Late in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, Army ambulances came clanging down Manila’s Pier 1 and halted alongside the American Red Cross hospital ship Mactan moored there.

They were followed by others, and for three hours an unending line of stretchers bearing seriously wounded American and Filipino soldiers streamed up the Mactan’s gangplank. Men with bandaged heads, with legs in casts, with arms in slings, and with hidden shrapnel wounds were borne aloft by Filipino doctors, nurses, and crew.

Their faces pallid and eyes expressionless, they had no idea where they were being taken. They did not seem to care, except that the large red crosses on the ship’s sides were a reassuring sign that they were in friendly hands.

There were 224 officers and enlisted men in the group of wounded young boys of the new Philippine Army, youthful American airmen, grizzled veterans of the Philippine Scouts (an arm of the United States Army), and gray-haired American soldiers with many years’ service in the Far East. All had been wounded fighting the Japanese invaders during the bloody weeks preceding the historic stand on Bataan.

These casualties had been left behind in the Sternberg General Hospital when General Douglas MacArthur withdrew his forces to Bataan. Anxious, however, to save them from the rapidly advancing Japanese armies, he had requested the American Red Cross to transport them to Darwin, Australia, in a ship chartered, controlled, staffed, and fully equipped by the Red Cross. The only military personnel aboard, apart from the patients, would be an Army surgeon, Colonel Percy J. Carroll, of St. Louis, Missouri, and an Army nurse, Lieutenant Floramund Ann Fellmeth, of Chicago.

Aboard the Mactan, berthed at Manila’s only pier to survive constant Japanese air attacks, Irving Williams, of Patchogue, Long Island, lanky Red Cross field director, observed the three-hour procession of wounded up the gangplank. From now on until the ship reached Australia an estimated ten-day passage if things went well responsibility for them was in his hands.

The book on page 16 continues by explaining how the Mactan ended up the chosen ship for this mission:

Only forty-eight hours had elapsed since the Mactan had been brought from Corregidor where she was unloading military stores for the United States Army. A 2,000-ton, decrepit old Philippine inter-island steamer, she was the only ship available at the time when everything in Manila Bay had been sunk or scuttled or had scampered off to sea.

Working under threat of Manila’s imminent occupation by Japanese troops, Williams and his Red Cross associates, and the crews under them, performed a miracle of speed in outfitting the Mactan as a hospital ship. Simultaneously, steps were taken to fulfill the obligations of international law governing hospital ships: The Mactan was painted white with a red band around the vessel and large red crosses on her sides and top decks; a charter agreement was made between the American Red Cross and the ship’s owners; the ship was commissioned in the name of the President of the United States; in accordance with cabled instructions from Chairman Norman H. Davis in the name of the American Red Cross, the Japanese Government was apprized of the ship’s description and course; all contraband was dumped overboard; and the Swiss Consul, after a diligent inspection as the representative of United States interests, gave his official blessings.

The Mactan, lacking charts to navigate the mine-infested waters of Manila Bay, set steam late in the evening of December 31, 1941. The Philippine Diary Project has Gen. Basilio J. Valdes solving the problem of the charts (involving the charts of the presidential yacht, Casiana, recently sunk off Corregidor), in his entry for December 31, 1941:

At 5 p.m. while I was at Cottage 605, the telephone rang. It was a long distance from Manila. I rushed to answer. It was my aide Lieutenant Gonzalez informing that the ship would be ready to sail, but the Captain refused to leave unless he had the charts for trip, and same could not be had in Manila. I told Lieutenant Gonzalez to hold the line and I asked Colonel Huff who was at General MacArthur’s Quarters next door, and he told me that the charts of the Casiana could be given. I informed Lieutenant Gonzalez. Half an hour later Lieutenant Gonzales again called me and told me that the boat would leave at 6:30 p.m.

I was tired. After dinner I retired. At 10:30 p.m. a U.S. Army Colonel woke me up to inform me that the ship was still in Pier N-1 and that the Captain refused to sail unless he had the charts. We contacted USAFFE Headquarters. We were informed that the Don Esteban was within the breakwater. We gave instructions that the charts of the Don Esteban be given to the Captain of the SS Mactan and that those of the Casiana would be given to the SS Don Esteban.

I then called Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon, and asked him to see that the ship sails even if he had to put soldiers on board and place the Captain under arrest.

At 11:40 p.m. we were advised by phone that the SS Mactan, the hospital ship had left the Pier at 11:30 p.m. We all gave a sigh of relief.

The Red Cross book describes the ship’s departure as follows om p. 19:

Off the breakwater, the Mactan dropped anchor to await the Don Esteban.

As the hours passed, a little group joined Julian C. Tamayo, the Mactan’s skipper, on the bridge for a last look at Manila’s skyline. Besides Williams, there were Father Shanahan, Colonel Carroll, and Chief Nurse Ann Fellmeth.

Having been declared an open city, Manila once again was ablaze. The incandescent lights, however, were dimmed by the curtains of bright flame hanging over the city. The Army was dynamiting gasoline storage tanks at its base in Pandacan and its installations on Engineer Island to prevent their use by the enemy. The docks were burning, and over smoldering Cavite Navy Yard, devastated by heavy Japanese air attacks, intermittent flashes of fire reddened the sky.

As if by design, promptly at midnight the last of the Pandacen gasoline tanks blew up with a terrific explosion, throwing up masses of flame which seemed to envelop the whole city. A new year was ushered in, but the little group on the Mactan’s bridge was in no mood for celebration.

The charts brought by the Don Estebarfs master were not the ones Captain Tamayo had asked for. They were too general.

“Do you think you can sail without detailed charts?” askedWilliams.

“I think so,” replied the swarthy, pug-nosed little skipper with characteristic confidence.Once again, the Mactan weighed anchor. The moon was high in the sky as the ship approached Corregidor for a last-minute rendezvous with a United States naval vessel. From the shadow of The Rock sped a corvette, a gray wraith floodlighted by the moon, to lead the Mactan through the maze of mine fields. The corvette led the lumbering Mactan a merry chase; highly maneuverable, the former made the various turns at sharp angles, while the latter would reach the apex of a triangle and extend beyond it before making a turn.

A 26 year old American nurse, Floramund Fellmeth Difford, who ended up on board after being given a daring assignment, has her own version of events:

While the other nurses stationed in Manila were evacuated to Bataan and Corregidor, Difford was chosen for a special assignment because of her surgical nurse experience. A plan was devised to evacuate as many of the hospitalized soldiers as possible to Australia aboard an inter-island coconut husk steamer called the Mactan, under the auspices of the International Red Cross. It would be the largest single humanitarian evacuation of military personnel to date. And it was a suicide mission.

Col. Percy J. Carroll, the commanding officer of the Manila Hospital Center, told Difford the secret assignment was voluntary and risky. There was no guarantee the ship, which was barely seaworthy, would make it to its destination, but for the wounded, staying in Manila meant certain death. “It never really entered my mind to refuse, as we were accustomed to following orders,” Difford related in her book.

While the Japanese were on the outskirts of Manila, Difford awaited word to board the Mactan. She carried with her a note that explained that she was a noncombatant, but with the Japanese closing in, she prepared herself to become a prisoner. On Dec. 31, 1941, the order finally came. The Mactan, newly painted white with red crosses on its sides and decks so planes would recognize it as a “mercy ship,” was loaded with 224 wounded soldiers (134 Americans and 90 Filipinos); 67 crew members, all Filipino; and 25 medical and Red Cross personnel, all Filipino except Difford, who was the chief nurse, Col. Carroll, and a Catholic priest from Connecticut, the Rev. Thomas Shanahan, the ship’s chaplain.

Although the Red Cross was given clearance for the ship to leave by a Japanese commander, this was the first hospital ship to transport wounded soldiers in a war that the United States had just entered. There was great concern that the ship would be attacked by air or torpedo. Those aboard the ship rang in New Year’s Day 1942 to the sight of Manila in flames as the Americans blew up gasoline storage tanks to keep the supplies out of enemy hands.

The journey was fraught with peril. The ship had to zigzag through a maze of mines just to leave Manila Bay, following a Navy ship for guidance, and had a close call when it made a wrong turn in the darkness. The ship was infested with cockroaches, red ants, and copra beetles. Violent storms tossed the ship and drenched the patients on their cots on the decks, sheltered only by canvas. There was a fire in the engine room, and for a time those aboard prepared to abandon ship. Two wounded soldiers died from their injuries during the crossing, and a depressed Filipino soldier committed suicide by jumping overboard.

On Jan. 27, 1942, the Mactan arrived in Sydney Harbor to much fanfare, especially after newspapers had falsely reported that the ship had been attacked multiple times. Despite the primitive conditions aboard the vessel, the wounded soldiers arrived in very good condition and were quickly taken to a hospital on land. The Mactan’s voyage made headlines in the United States. Difford was cited for bravery by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1942, among other awards. She and other military nurses were belatedly awarded the Bronze Star Medal for their service in 1993.

On board the ship, Major William A. Fairfield, kept a diary –he called it a “log”– from January 1, 1942, when the S.S. Mactan left Manila, to January 27, 1942, when they entered Sydney Harbor. You can read his diary and his recollections of the opening weeks of the war in the Philippines.

At the end of the voyage, the soldiers who’d been saved, all signed the document:

S. S. Mactan, Red Cross Hospital Ship
At Sea, January 12, 1942

National Headquarters

American Red Cross

Washington, D. C.

We, the undersigned officers and enlisted men of the USAFFE, in grateful appreciation of the services rendered by the Philippine Chapter of the American Red Cross under the supervision of Mr. Irving Williams, Field Director, wish by this letter to express our gratitude.

The evacuation of the wounded soldiers from Manila by the Red Cross prior to its occupation by the enemy was instrumental in preserving the lives and health of the undersigned.

The document bore the signatures, rank, and home addresses of 210 of the Mactan’s patients all of them except those who had died or were too sick even to write their names. The addresses represented almost every state in the Union and every province in the Philippines.


August 24, 1942

Quezon, whom I had not seen for nearly a month, looks well but complains that he cannot make any great effort; and that his blood pressure is still very high. He spends most of the day in a silk dressing wrapper. He was closeted in his room for some time with Carlos Romulo, whom he afterwards characterized to me as politically “foolish” but adds that Romulo is a man who carries out everything entrusted to him.

He was very much aroused because of the proposed showing of an old film depicting the Philippine Constabulary in process of being cut to pieces by Moros until rescued by an American Army officer. Protested to J. Davies who is head of one of these propaganda organizations. Davies said he would at once look into it. But Quezon sat down and wrote a hot letter to the film director. Quezon denounced this attempt to show the Filipinos as cowards, (after this war in the Philippines) and added that he understood the director is a man “of Jewish race,” and that he, Quezon, considered this a poor return for his having opened the shores of the Philippines to the Jewish refugees, and for having himself given several acres of his own land to the Jews to help them to make a living. The movie director replied saying that he had withdrawn the film.

Then I had a long talk with him about his book. He stopped writing when he was in New York some two weeks ago, and retired to Leesburg to rest because he was tired. Canceran had told me that in New York he would begin dictating at 4:30 a.m. and they would not get breakfast until eleven. Quezon blamed Shuster and me for having allowed him to write so much of his personal biography and made him appear boastful–incidents of his youthful success as a runner, prizes at school, etc. He has been busy recently striking out all these passages from the galley proofs of his book which Shuster is setting up as he gets the ms. I pointed out to him that in June of this year I had worked ten hours a day for thirty days to get his book ready, under pressure from him and Shuster. Then when I submitted it to him for revision he had found a couple of mistakes I had made in putting his story on paper. That I had secured from him some account of his childhood and youth to introduce him personally to the American public, and to give a pungent background to his remarkably successful career. That he had so greatly enjoyed reviving memories of his youth that he had gone ahead with this quite independently of me. We had been talking all the time of a second book later on, in which he could really let himself go. That for nothing in the world would I stop him from recording his reminiscences, even tho they were not to go in this book. He admitted the truth of all this, but said he had decided never to write his own biography, that these things made him look ridiculous. That somebody else could write his biography (apparently not I), and he does not give me the long passages he had written or dictated about his personal life. I replied that I had been telling him for years that I was collecting materials for a biography of him, and he replied that I had better let him see what I was to write. I told him that there had been only three or four great autobiographies in the whole history of literature, and that to be really great at it a man must discard all concern as to what anybody would think of his character, and simply try to tell the truth. That I considered it fortunate that he had discovered mistakes in my ms. of this book, because that prompted him to write it all himself, which he could do a thousand times better than I could.

As for Shuster, I said that an editor learned from experience that when he persuades a man to write his first book, if he snubbed his excursions into matter not necessarily suitable, the author might throw up the whole job.

Quezon is a hard man to convince, but I think he was persuaded by this argument. He began dictating a third and fourth letter to Shuster telling him what to strike out but advising him to keep the surplus parts of personal biography for use at some future time. Then he set to work for some hours, striking out a good part of the galley proofs–much of which, I think, was quite unsuitable for the purposes of this topical war book. He called me in from time to time to read me the political parts he had written since I last saw him.

With this, I think his flagging interest in the book began to revive. It will be all the better if he now continues, though he will find it much harder to write of the serious events of the war and of his preparations for defense, than he did with the scenes of his early life which served an escapist purpose for his mind in these extremely troubled times.

He was particularly interested in reading me what he had written in favour of a “Dominion status” for the Philippines. Said he had often been accused by Americans of being secretly against independence but he had in 1916 supported the Clarke amendment in Congress for independence tho Osmeña had not. (Osmeña came to me in the Ayuntamiento one day in 1916 and was in the greatest distress and excitement–trembling–told me of the introduction of the Clarke amendment, and proposed to do all he could to defeat it. I told him: ‘D. Sergio, you have been going up and down the Philippines for years advocating independence. Now that it is offered to you, if you oppose it, the Filipino people will smear you on the wall.’ Quezon says nevertheless that Osmeña cabled him to oppose it.) In support of the principles of the Clarke amendment, Quezon says now that this would have given them independence in 1918 or 1920. That there was then, as yet, no great sugar industry in the Philippines so there would have been no powerful opposition to free trade in the United States; that the Americans would have wished to keep open their free market for shoes and machinery in the Philippines. The Jones bill, to which the Clarke amendment was added in the Senate made no provision for trade restriction in America for Philippine commerce. So the Filipinos, if made independent in 1918 would not have suffered any economic earthquake, and could have gone to work to prepare themselves for military self-protection.

In his plans for a Dominion status, he still would not have had a single American in uniform in the parts of the Islands which is government administered, but he would be willing to give the United States such small islands as they needed for their air bases, etc. He seemed anxious to have my views of what he had written on Dominion status, adding that this was the first time he had made a public statement to that effect. He wanted to know whether I thought it was all right him to make such a statement. I replied that in present conditions in the world, it was all right, and that for some years before the war, I had never given any weight to this proposition because I did not then for a moment believe that the United States would accept responsibility without power. Nor did he. But the invasion and occupation of the Islands by the Japanese had changed the whole political situation. For him now to advocate Dominion status would be merely the logical result of the choice of the United States which he made during those days of extreme anxiety, first at Mariquina and then on Corregidor, when he considered if new leaders were now arising in the Philippines. He replied that he was old (just 64) and could not answer for such a development. I asked him if the Filipinos would be in favour of his policy of Dominion status and he said “No.”

He got busy on the telephone talking in Spanish to Under Secretary of State Welles, offering to make a radio address to the Latin American States now that Brazil has joined the war. The suggestion was accepted. He also received an invitation to dine at the White House tomorrow evening.

He later sent a letter to Shuster explaining that he was not interested in any profits which might come to him from the book, altho he left the Philippines practically penniless. He wanted Shuster to be trustee for any such profits and to devote them to public purposes after the war, but if he were to die meanwhile, and his family were in want, that fact should be taken into consideration.

He then returned to the subject of his reminiscences. Told of his first “fighting speech” in the Washington House of Representatives which was in opposition to President Taft’s “Friar Land Purchase Bill”–in the middle of his speech, Crumpacker interrupted him to enquire what his colleague thought of it. Quezon replied: “I don’t know. Ask him. He is present”–but old Benito Legarda had slipped out. Quezon added “my colleague was a patriot, but he did not forget what was convenient.” When he got to their lodgings after his speech, Legarda embraced him and said “You were magnificent. Because you are so brilliant, I wish to save you. Don’t do it–don’t run your head against a stone wall. They will ruin you.” Quezon replied: “There will be other presidents after Taft.” “Yes,” said Legarda “but they’ll all be the same.” Quezon answered: “Well, I thank you very much Don Benito but remember: there is nothing so sad as a man’s not being able to return to his own country.” Legarda was not re-elected by the Philippine Assembly, went to Paris and died there, and never saw his native land again.

Quezon contrasted my action (immediately after the defeat of our party in 1920), in sending to President Wilson my resignation effective on his last day of office, with that of Governor Forbes, who was in the United States when Wilson was first elected, and went back to Manila, to be later ousted by President Wilson. Also Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. who as Governor General made a campaign speech practically accusing his cousin the President of being a crook. Then after F.D.R. was elected, T.R. Jr. offered to stay on in his post. F.D.R. replied thanking him for his devotion to his public office, but relieving him and making the Vice Governor acting. I observed that T.R. Jr. was very foolish. Quezon replied: “He’s worse that that–he’s stupid.”

In p.m. August 24th had a conversation with Mrs Quezon and Mrs. Marcos Roces, widow of the captain who was my a.d.c. in the Philippine National Guard in 1917. Her brother-in-law Don Alejandro Roces has been in recent years the most intimate friend of the Quezon family in the Philippines–at all their fiestas, or on the yacht Casiana or at Baguio with them. In the past, Roces had fought Quezon savagely with his newspapers. The first mission confided to me by Quezon when I became his Adviser in 1935 was to go as “ambassador” to Don Alejandro in his newspaper office and negotiate a treaty of peace between two doughty opponents. (See my diary for Nov. ’35.)

Mrs. Quezon does not believe the Japanese have done general damage in the Philippines since the occupation of Manila. The Japanese who acts as “G.G.” is occupying the Quezon house in Pasay, which was undamaged in the bombing.

She feels quite lost at having nothing to do nowadays. Had not only a busy life looking out for Malacañan Palace, but also for their houses in Baguio, Pasay, Mariquina, Quezon City, Cabuyao and Tagaytay.

But, when her children were fairly grown up or at school, Mrs. Quezon asked her husband to allow her to see what she could do as a farmer of her 600 hectare farm near Mount Arayat in Cabuyao. The first thing was to get irrigation water from the system in the Candaba swamp, adjoining the farm; but Quezon refused to authorize the extension of the government irrigation system in order to irrigate his wife’s farm. However she persuaded him to have a survey made, so that it was shown that such extension would benefit many thousands of hectares belonging to other persons in that vicinity.

Sugar farming had been abandoned there by Felipe Buencamino, so Mrs. Quezon started with 200 hectares of rice paddy. Then she got a Japanese manager and planted 25 hectares in ramie, a Chinese plant which can furnish rubber and also a fibre from which both “linen” and “silk” fabric can be made. The Japanese in the Ohta Development Company in Mindanao had made a great success of this fibre. It is stronger than abaca and cuts one’s hand when trying to break it. The fibre is about three feet long and makes stronger parachutes than does silk. The Japanese send to London the linen they make of it–the most beautiful sold in England.

The ramie plant is about 5 feet high, and the suckers must be cut four times a year. The leaf is heart-shaped and is silvery underneath. The fibre sells for 40-50 pesos per picul and the income is sixteen times as great as that from sugar cane. The cost of production is 20% of the gross revenue. From her 25 hectares, Mrs Quezon was getting 32,000 pesos net profit a year. It gives continuous employment to labourers throughout the year. Her ambition was to have 50 hectares of ramie. The Japanese have a special knack in this cultivation; it requires dry land, but must have irrigation.

Mrs. Quezon has had in recent years a very active and profitable life as businesswoman; was on one or two boards of mining companies, with, for two or three years an income of 1,200 pesos a month from Acoje mine (she helped to discover this chromium mine herself). In Quezon City she owned a grocery store and a drugstore; just before the invasion she had paid 20,000 pesos for beginning construction of the first cinema there; she owned also apartments and two houses in Quezon City.

She likewise owns three pescarias, or fish ponds, in Guagua, Pampanga, which yield two nettings a year; the fry are put in when the size of mosquito wigglers and in six months are foot long; 3-4,000 fish at a haul, which go fresh to market in baskets. The ponds are salt water, but are kept brackish. It is really curious how superior in business matters the Filipinas are to the average Filipino men.

She feels very deeply the interruption of her business life.

Major (Dr.) Cruz, who was present, is superintendent of the hospital she built near her farm in Pampanga. He told us that there was now news that the “communists” there had gone over to co-operation with the Japanese, as the Sakdalistas around Laguna also had, from the beginning, already done. Mrs. Quezon remarked: “A good thing, then they will no longer be communists.” Cruz observed they had never really been communists, but merely followers of Pedro Abad Santos, who is himself somewhat inclined that way. They followed him because of their grievances against the landlords. They had killed two or three of the leading landlords in recent years. There are, thinks Cruz, about 15,000 of them, including their families, in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and Pangasinan.

Quezon says that Americans owned the sugar in Cuba and they brought on the war against Spain.

He remarked that Osmeña had perfect physical courage; is quite imperturbable; but has no “moral courage.”

While playing two bridge hands tonight he made mistakes–quite unusual for him–he was abstracted, and admitted he was thinking of Romulo.

Once more we agreed that the American school system in the Islands had been in some respects a failure, especially in the teaching of English, which gets worse and worse. Quezon said that while he was lying ill of TB in his house in Baguio, with a Filipina as trained nurse, she told him one morning that the “Press” was there to see him. He said: “Tell them to go to Hell”–the man at the door, who overheard, was Father Tamayo, the head of the Dominicans, where Quezon had been educated. The nurse had said “priest” as if it was “press.” Quezon easily explained this later to Tamayo.


June 4, 1942

12:30 p.m. at Senate Chamber to hear Quezon’s address. Excellent and effective. He seemed a little nervous at the beginning, and no wonder: that is the most critical audience in the world. They were all very friendly to him. Quezon told me that never in his wildest dreams had he expected to address the United States Senate, though he had always counted on being the President of his own country. Senator Barkley of Kentucky, the floor leader, sat on his right and led the applause, while Senator Tydings sat on his left. As the Senate was technically in recess to receive him, applause was not “out of order” and some of the Senators kept it up even longer than the crowded galleries. They had interrupted their voting on a declaration of war against Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary to receive him. The ex-Mrs. Douglas MacArthur went up in the motor with the Quezons.

Quezon was in high spirits after it was all so well over, and had A. D. Williams and myself, with Quezon’s two daughters to lunch at the Shoreham. His daughters were chaffing him because he had made one slip–referring to the V.P. as “Vice President Marshall.” It was, of course, Henry Wallace.

At lunch, there was a lively conversation between Quezon and A. D. Williams, who in recent years had been closest to the President of any American in the Philippines, being his adviser in the construction of public works in which Quezon’s keen creative energies were always fully employed. Williams, who had at last, after so many years of service in the tropics incurred the disease known as “sprue” had finally, in July 1941, been obliged to resign his most confidential post with the President in Manila and retire for good to his farm near Culpepper, Virginia. One of his last bits of construction work in the Philippines had been the creation of an air-raid shelter at Quezon’s country home at Mariquina, near Manila. The Quezon girls, who were present at this luncheon commented enthusiastically over this and said that, during the invasion they had spent most of their time in that shelter; it had a toilet and two entrances, and had been cut out of the tufa rock which is excellent material for insulating shocks.

Quezon and Williams told of some differences of opinion between the President and General MacArthur during these months of anxiety and strain before the war broke, but it would be quite superfluous to recount such matters now after the close friendship and heroic co-operation of those important personages during the dramatic war scenes which followed.

They also chatted about General Eisenhower the present Chief of the War Plans Board in Washington. MacArthur had brought with him on his mission to the Philippines two Majors in the United States Army, Ord and Eisenhower. When poor Ord was killed in an airplane accident at Baguio, Eisenhower became MacArthur’s “number two.” Eisenhower was very popular with both races in Manila–Americans and Filipinos, and seemed to enjoy the many occasions on which Quezon entertained him at Malacañan and on the yacht Casiana. Finally, Mrs. Eisenhower began to claim the Major’s time for her social engagements and Quezon had chaffed him about this in the presence of his wife at the farewell luncheon he gave them at Malacañan Palace some months before the war broke, when they were returning to the United States.

At this same luncheon, Quezon and A. D. Williams made quite different computations as to the number of American war planes in the Philippines at the time of the invasion. When Williams then ill, finally left the islands to retire home, he had been a member of the board appointed by Quezon to advise on new air fields. He calculated that the United States then had some three hundred plane in or en route to the Philippines, actually on hand or about to arrive. Quezon said there had been, at the time of the Japanese assault thirty-eight four engine bombers and about one hundred and thirty war planes of various types. Many of these were destroyed on the ground at Nichols Field, Clark Field and Cavite on the eighth of December, 1941. I asked whether this destruction caused any panic among the Filipinos and he replied that they knew nothing about it. Williams told again of his having, as representative of the Philippine Government gone around in June or July 1941 with the American officer-in-charge to inspect ground for new air landing space near Manila and how he personally had begged the Commanding General not to extend existing fields, but to build a dozen new landing grounds among the bamboo fields to either side of the South Road. No attention had been paid to his advice. He also remonstrated with the navy for spending five or six million dollars in dredging and in filling in an extension of the existing air field at Cavite which, as he said, “stuck out like a sore thumb” in Manila Bay, and was visible from the air for a great distance.

Quezon then said how indignant he had been with Admiral Hart for withdrawing his fleet from the Philippines at nearly the last moment. “If he was going to lose his fleet, why not to so in defense of the Philippines instead of Java?” He admitted, however, that Hart’s fleet was destroyed after he, himself, had been relieved of command at the insistence of the Dutch, who took over the American ships before the disastrous naval battle of the Java Sea. But Quezon still insisted that his submarines, based on Cavite for refuelling, should have been used to sink the Japanese transports and thus interrupt the invasion of the Philippines. There were twenty-eight submarines in this command of which some twenty-two were of the new type.

Quezon then turned to some remarks on the pressing reasons which had induced him to attempt towards the end of February 1942 the escape by submarine from the beleaguered fortress of Corregidor. This will not be repeated here, because it has been described in his book The Good Fight, published by D. Appleton-Century in New York in 1944, after the President’s death.

This account of that day’s conversation at the luncheon table at the Shoreham would be incomplete without recording the writer’s recollection of another subject discussed by Quezon, which has, however, a very remote bearing if any on the invasion of the Philippines.


February 1, 1942

The conference at USAFFE HQ presided by Col. R. Marshall G-4 that I attended addressed the acute food shortage of our Bataan troops.   Among others present in that conference were Lt. Col. Andres Soriano of San Miguel (CAD & asgd. w/G-4) and my friend Capt. Juan Panopio OSP (Res.) former Capt. of Pres. Yacht “Casiana” and now CO, M.S. Kolambugan, a freighter.  In that conference, it was decided that Q-112 escort M.S. Kolambugan break through enemy blockade under cover of darkness and sneak to Looc Cove, Batangas where a G-4 officer will deliver to us the foodstuff he procured. This mission is difficult as there are no aids to navigation and the approaches to Corregidor is blockaded.  After giving detailed instructions to Capt. Panopio and lending him my signalman, Q-112 with Kolambugan following shoved off Corregidor after sunset Jan. 30  darkenship, radio silence.  After passing the mine fields, I headed to Cavite coast hugging the coastline 2 miles off until we reached Looc Cove.

By prearranged signals, I contacted the G-4 Officer who turned out to be my townmate, Maj. Jose Ruedo ’27.  He directed us to a concealed anchorage where loading of rice and cattle started at once, continued the whole day of the 31st up to 1600 when 5,000 tons of rice and 300 heads of cattle were loaded aboard the M.S. Kolambugan.  In addition, Maj. Rueda gave me a gallon of pancit molo (native dumpling noodle soup) for Pres. Quezon. We left Looc Cove at 2000 tracing back our former route. The moon was bright and about midnight, my lookout reported seeing the snorkel of an unidentified sub, confirmed by my Exo, Lt. Gomez.  I signaled the Kolambugan what to do, sped to the reported location and dropped four dept charges, after which Q-112 and M.S. Kolambugan resumed  course to Corregidor arriving thereat 0700 today.  Col. Marshall and Lt. Col. Soriano were so glad to welcome us back bring food stuff whose weight is equivalent in gold for our starving Bataan troops.

Later, I proceeded to the Lateral of the Quezon Family to deliver Maj. Rueda’s pancit molo.  Mrs. Quezon was delighted saying it is the favorite soup of her husband. Mrs. Quezon brought me before the Pres. who was with Col. Charles Willoughby G-2. After thanking me for the pancit molo, Quezon resumed his talk with G-2. He seemed upset that no reinforcement was coming. I heard him say that America is giving more priority to England and Europe, reason we have no reinforcement.  “Puñeta”, he exclaimed, “how typically American to writhe in anguish over a distant cousin (England) while a daughter (Philippines) is being raped in the backroom”.


December 31, 1941 – Wednesday

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Got up at 4 a.m. Left Army and Navy Club at 5 a.m. Arrived Corregidor at 6:10 a.m. after a slightly rough trip. The North East monsoon was blowing quite hard. Upon arrival I reported the results of my trip to President Quezon and General MacArthur. Both were pleased and congratulated me for the success of my mission.

At 5 p.m. while I was at Cottage 605, the telephone rang. It was a long distance from Manila. I rushed to answer. It was my aide Lieutenant Gonzalez informing that the ship would be ready to sail, but the Captain refused to leave unless he had the charts for trip, and same could not be had in Manila. I told Lieutenant Gonzalez to hold the line and I asked Colonel Huff who was at General MacArthur’s Quarters next door, and he told me that the charts of the Casiana could be given. I informed Lieutenant Gonzalez. Half an hour later Lieutenant Gonzalez again called me and told me that the boat would leave at 6:30 p.m.

I was tired. After dinner I retired. At 10:30 p.m. a U.S. Army Colonel woke me up to inform me that the ship was still in Pier N-1 and that the Captain refused to sail unless he had the charts. We contacted USAFFE Headquarters. We were informed that the Don Esteban was within the breakwater. We gave instructions that the charts of the Don Esteban be given to the Captain of the SS Mactan and that those of the Casiana would be given to the SS Don Esteban.

I then called Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon, and asked him to see that the ship sails even if he had to put soldiers on board and place the Captain under arrest.

At 11:40 p.m. we were advised by phone that the SS Mactan, the hospital ship had left the Pier at 11:30 p.m. We all gave a sigh of relief. I went back to bed. And so ended 1941 for me. I could not sleep; I thought of home, of those dear to me, and I felt a terrible nostalgia. How hard life is at times. It is a good thing, that we have the faith in our God to lean on. I hope and pray that the much needed assistance from the U.S. will come very soon, so that we may eject the invaders from our country, and be able to return to Manila to our homes and our dear ones.


December 2, 1938

Went aboard the new government yacht Casiana at 6:30 p.m. with Don Alejandro Roces, Colonel Eisenhower, Colonel Hutter, Major Speth, Jake Rosenthal, Bob Rogers and A. D. Williams–all close friends of Quezon, who brought with him also his elder daughter Maria Aurora and his son Manuel Jr.

Very luxurious vessel and admired by all.

Bridge took up most of our waking hours on this brief trip. I had only one conversation with Quezon produced a story to record. He says that on his last visit to the United States in March, 1937, he told President Roosevelt that he was in favour of independence for the Philippines in 1938 or 1939, because the existing situation was impossible since: (a) the relations of the High Commissioner to the Philippine Government were not defined and (b) trade relations under the Tydings-McDuffie Act were so disadvantageous. So far as President Roosevelt was concerned, he was then willing to grant immediate independence.

Quezon reports a scene at the reception then given him in Washington by the Secretary of War. Dr. Stanley Hornbeck, adviser on Far Eastern Affairs in the Department of State, whom he describes as “one of those imperialists” came up to him and sneered at the plight in which the Filipinos would find themselves if they got immediate independence. Quezon roared at him: “We Filipinos can live on rice and fish, and to hell with your sugar and oil.”

Quezon also commented that if Murphy really did not wish to return as High Commissioner when McNutt withdrew, he was in favour of Francis Sayre. He says Sayre is a fine fellow, and a son-in-law of the late President Wilson. He learned as Adviser to the King of Siam how to get on with Orientals. “But,” he added, “Sayre is opposed to commercial concessions by the United States to the Philippines.”

Manuel Roxas joined us for the last day of the trip, and I saw him win seven straight rubbers of bridge. He is singularly well up in American political history. He seems to me facile princeps after Quezon. He is shrewd enough, I think to steer his way through all the shoals around him as he enters the present Administration. Very agreeable and interesting man.